A perspective on Outstanding by Design from Dave Donohue

 

Dave is a Thomastown based writer working on his own craft beer product & when I saw that he was coming to the event I asked him to pen his thoughts on it. Here they are.

Keith

David Donohue – guest blog for Bia Beag

When I attended Bia Beag’s Outstanding by Design forum at Highbank Orchards in June, I did so as part of my research for a craft beer which I am currently developing.

Although aware that branding was essentially about communicating to the potential customer ‘what you are’ as a brand, I didn’t necessarily see the investment of money in the branding process as an essential part of launching a new small-producer product.

As somebody who works with a well-stocked little Kilkenny deli (Glasrai & Goodies), on the marketing and sourcing side, I come across a lot of small-producer food and drink products which have been launched without engagement with professional designer/consultants.

..all rely on simple packaging/labelling

 

Products like Sally Barnes’ Woodcock Smokery’s smoked fish, Goatsbridge’s trout (before its recent ‘branding’), Highbank Orchard’s Driver’s Cider, Orchard Syrup and ciders, Danette Milne’s pesto’s and sauces all rely on simple packaging/labelling.

When I see these products beside the ‘branded’ ones like Paddy O’s Granola, Mella’s Fudge, Mic’s chilli and Gubbeen cheese I don’t necessarily see the branded products jumping off the shelf in comparison.

Siobhan Lawlor, who owns Glasrai & Goodies, always says that the most simply packaged produce does best in her deli. In Siobhan’s opinion anything too fussy, loud, showy or glitzy puts the customer off buying artisan produce. ‘Truffle Fairy truffles come in a plain box with just a tiny sticker with the Truffle Fairy logo. There is no contents information, and yet we can’t keep them in stock.’

Before the Outstanding by Design forum I intended to design my own label for my craft beer, named after Ireland’s most famous philosopher, Berkeley, with the help of a brilliant local artist/illustrator. I was going to do something that looked good, stood out on the shelves and got the story across. If my product did okay in the market I would then look at ‘branding’ to take it to the next level.

…the length and intensity of the branding process

I was interested to me if the forum would sway me from my intended approach. The first thing that struck me as the forum progressed was the length and intensity of the branding process.

Sarah Maguire from Brand Union spent months delving into the branding possibilities afforded by Paddy O’ Connell’s love of the great outdoors, good looks and strong personal story, while the evolution of freelance designer, Steve Simpson’s label designs for Mic Wejchert’s, Mic’s Chilli, incorporating the bar code into his ‘day of the dead’ influenced cartoon-like illustrations, was an eye opener.

As well as being a window into Steve’s artistic approach, the conversation highlighted the lengthy step-by-step process that created a clearly-branded, quirky and memorable product, while fulfilling the producers exacting brief. Steve also brought to light how some freelance designers are willing to be flexible, price-wise, when working with new producers with whom they hope to develop a long term relationship.

…highlighted by the forum was its collaborative nature

 

Another aspect of the branding process which was highlighted by the forum was its collaborative nature. Mella Mc Auley, from Mella’s fudge and freelance designer, Liz Maybury seemed to delight in the process of working together, with Liz emphasizing how she faithfully incorporated Mella’s one stipulation, that gold foil be used for the lettering of the fudge bar packaging.

Erik Johansson, from The Green Man Studio and Paul O’ Connor of the Trouble Brewing, brewing company also gave a great insight into the to-and-fro between designer and client. In this case the brief was to re-brand a craft brewing company with a stipulation to be ‘rebellious yet not offensive.’ This re-branding has, according to Paul, been a huge factor in Trouble Brewing’s year-on-year growth of 50%.

Christina Moody from Value Added in Africa and Laura Macauley from Navigate by Design illustrated how inspired re-branding gave a small African Community-focused honey-making project a real shot at the International market.

Rachel Kerr from Creative Inc & Liz Skehan (mother of Donal) of Skoff pies talked about Liz and Donal’s newly launched product, and the design brief, which asked her to emphasise that Skoff Pies ‘stand for home cooked food with a funky personality.’ Rachel emphasised the importance of a good name in being identified, recognised and understood, and the role which colour plays in branding.

His advice to me was simple – have a clear idea of what your product is…

 

After lunch the attendees were given the opportunity to have a one-to-one discussion with a designer of their choice. I chose Eric Johanssen, who had created Trouble Brewing’s entertaining and eye-catching labels. His advice to me was simple – have a clear idea of what your product is, who the customer is, and why they might want to buy it, and to use this information to create a brand image that sets your product apart.

He liked my product idea and especially the products unique twist (I should be in marketing!). He also loved my choice of label illustrator because, Eric said, my designer is a guy with a very individual style, and a great love for craft beer. The Eric gave me his card and told me to call him as the project came closer to fruition.

The concluding talk of the day, following designer Lorenzo Tonti and Gubbeen’s Fingal Ferguson’s warm-hearted discussion about the Ferguson families long relationship with the designer, came from designer, Giles Calver.

Gile’s wrote the book ‘What Is Packaging Design?’ which organiser/host and the man behind Biabeag, Keith Bohanna, had earlier suggested was the product-design bible. Giles bullet-pointed the essentials of good branding, summarising the key points of the day in the process.

…good branding is not just an essential for product success, but a fascinating world in itself

 

Giles left me with a sense that good branding is not just an essential for product success, but a fascinating world in itself, a world which combines psychology and anthropology, while being ruled by with the basic tenet that humans like nice things in nice packages.

Almost two months on from the Outstanding by Design forum I continue with my product research. I see beer labels that have been through months of design consultancy at great cost and some which have been put together by the brewers teenage art-loving daughter on photo-shop, and I can’t always tell the difference.

…I’m still not convinced that I need to hire a professional designer

 

So, no, I’m still not convinced that I need to hire a professional designer to take my beer to the shelf, at least initially. Goatsbridge trout thrived and grew for years with their initial packaging, and Highbank Orchards, with a simple label designed by Julie Calder-Potts, can barely keep up with the demand for their Driver’s Cider.

I do know, however, that everything I learnt during the forum will inform my approach to designing the label for my unique beer product, and, if I’m not happy with the results, I just might give Eric Johanssen a call…

David Donohue David Donohue is an author/songwriter/horse racing journalist with a love of food and craft beer. David works as marketing consultant, Facebook manager, with Glasrai & Goodies and the Truffle Fairy Café and Chocolaterie. davyd@eircom.net

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One thought on “A perspective on Outstanding by Design from Dave Donohue

  1. Good account of the day, David. I, however was surprised at how the day changed my outlook on branding. I now realise how important it is,and personally got a lot out of the day.
    One thing you didn’t mention is the reason we don’t start out with branding sorted, is because we need to start.. Need to earn enough to pay initial costs and also need to test our market (s).
    The theoretical is quite different to the practical, and where artisan food products are concerned, the margins are small (too!!). So there’s a bit of a Catch 22 that occurs.
    But, I loved the day, was glad I went and have ‘branding’ far nearer the forefront of my mind than I did before I attended the day.
    Well done, Keith Bohanna for that.;-)

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